Wine: Just deserts

PUBLISHED: 11:29 25 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

Wine: Just deserts

Wine: Just deserts

Rosie Bainbridge looks at how best to mix the smooth with the sweet

The English love puddings whether its a traditional apple pie or damson cobbler or something indulgent and comforting like treacle sponge or sticky toffee pudding. Puddings are part of our culinary heritage, but which wines should we be drinking with them?

As a general rule dessert wine should be sweeter than the food its served with if not the wine will taste sour and tart. Wine can heighten the flavours of desserts in the same way that they enhance the main course.

Some of the sweetest and most elegant wines are the French Vins Doux Naturels (VDN) made from Muscat grapes, such as Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Rivelsaltes or Frontignan, or from Grenache in Rasteau, Banyuls and Maury. VDNs are created by stopping the alcoholic fermentation of the sweet juice by the addition of grape spirit, bringing alcohol levels up to a minimum of 15 per cent, but retaining the natural sweetness of the wine. They are strong and sweet, yet Muscat is also refreshingly grapey, matching some fruit-based desserts such as apple pie or fruit compte, accompanied by quality vanilla ice-cream of course, whereas Grenache based wines, reminiscent of fig, spice and fruit cake, make an excellent match for very sweet puddings.

Some of the worlds finest, long-lived sweet wines are made from fully ripened, late harvested grapes affected by noble rot, or Botrytis Cinerea, a fungus that thrives in warm humid conditions. Botrytis leaves the grapes shrivelled through moisture loss, thus concentrating the sugars and imparting luscious flavours of honey, peach and apricot. Sauternes, Barsac and neighbouring Monbazillac are perhaps the best known examples, but other botrytized wines are produced in Austria and Hungary, and in Germany, where the highest graded trockenbeerenauslese are exceptional. These luscious sweet wines will accompany desserts ranging from cream caramel to old fashioned treacle tart.

Other sweet wines such as Italys Vin Santo are made by leaving the harvested grapes to dry on racks or mats in warm rooms over winter. Once pressed the juice makes intensely sweet and concentrated wine that develops a deep golden amber hue as it ages. Vin Santo or holy wine is thought to have come originally from Tuscany, but is now produced in most regions of Italy. Its often served with Cantucci biscuits to dip into the wine, or drunk as a digestive after espresso.

Finally to Eiswein, or Ice-wine, the highly sought after pudding wine, produced in the cold climate vineyards of Germany and Canada from Riesling and Vidal grapes, but New World countries are experimenting with Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and even Shiraz ice-wine. The grapes are late-harvested, often as late as New Year when they can be frozen on the vine. The resulting wine is intensely sweet, with a zesty shot of acidity like tangy marmalade, but also with a whole range of other fruit flavours from grapefruit and pineapple to fig, mango and lychee.

Some believe this wine should be drunk young whilst fresh and fruity; others say its better kept, as its well preserved by the sugar and acidity, but either way only small quantities are needed thankfully, as theyre massively expensive. Try with baked apples and clotted cream or for a sweet fest tuck into sticky toffee pudding.

The winemakers of the world create glorious sweet wines that certainly enhance the flavours of our delicious traditional English puddings though for anyone in denial they partner cheese equally well, especially the blue varieties.

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